I would like to know what "An' hoo says hoo can tell when hoo's hurt" means in the following stanzas:


Eawr Marget declares had hoo cloo'as to put on,
Hoo'd goo up to Lunnon an' talk to th' greet mon;
An' if things were na awtered when there hoo had been,
Hoo's fully resolved t' sew up meawth an' eend;
    Hoo's neawt to say again t' king,
    But hoo loikes a fair thing,
An' hoo says hoo can tell when hoo's hurt.

In this novel which is published in 1848 in the United Kingdom, Alice hosted a tea party at her own house, to which Mary and Margaret were invited. During the party, Alice asked Margaret, a very good singer, to sing "The Oldham Weaver." At this request, Margaret began to sing this Lancashire ditty.

(This song is about a very poor cotton weaver, who lives with his daughter Margaret (or Marget). They are very poor so that they have nothing to eat, and they are being driven to starvation. That is why Margaret is determined to go to London to see "the great man" to explain their circumstances.)

In this part, I could not understand what the stanza in bold means.

Does it mean she can "speak" when she "suffers"? Or that she can "discern/know" when she "suffers"...? (These are just my wild guesses.)

I would very much appreciate your help.

1 Answer 1


Gareth Rees gives the meaning and derivation of the pronoun “hoo” (= “she”) in his answer to another question about this very stanza.

According to John Harland, in his 1875 Ballads and Songs of Lancashire, the song - which he knew as Jone O'Grinfilt Junior - was written just after the Battle of Waterloo and was once very popular.

His last lines are

Hoo says hoo'd begin, un' feight blood up to th' e'en,
Hoo's nout agen th' king, bur hoo loikes a fair thing,
Un' hoo says hoo con tell when hoo's hurt.

He says, "This ballad is still a favourite in many parts of Lancashire; and the last three lines have become 'house-hold words.'"

I looked for other versions to see if any of them made the sense clearer. As often happens with folk songs it became mixed up with a quite different song. And to make matters worse, they were known by different names.

A ballad called "The Original Joan O' Grinfield" is at the Bodleian Library. It has the Roud (folk song index) number 1460, and is a different song from yours.

However "Joan O'Grinfield" (Roud 937), has almost the same words as yours but with the Oldham dialect turned down a notch. Unfortunately the last line

And hoo ses hoo can tell when hoos hurt.

is still sufficiently Oldham to keep us guessing at its meaning!

Perhaps the writer left out the word been because it didn't scan. Then it could mean "And she says she can tell when she's been hurt" — a bit like the still-common line "I know when I'm not wanted".

But Harland's remark that the last three lines "have become 'house-hold words'" makes me wonder if "I know when I'm hurt" was simply a saying of the time. A Punch of 1877 mentions some popular sayings from "other days", including “What a shocking bad hat!”, “How are you off for soap?” and “There you go with your eye out!” whose appeal is barely comprehensible to us.

  • Dear Old Brixtonian, thank you so much for such detailed explanation. I didn't know that "she knows when she's hurt" was so commonly used in many folk songs. But, after reading your explanation, I came to be curious as to how the verse in bold is connected to the previous verse, "she likes a fair thing." As far as I understand, I thought that Margaret "liked justice/impartiality," but, reading your explanation that the expression in bold means "she knows when she's hurt," I came to wonder how the expression is connected to the previous verse. She likes justice, but she knows when she's hurt..? Aug 26, 2020 at 7:12
  • "She knows when she's hurt" wasn't necessarily used in many folk songs. It was used in many variants of the same one. I think it must mean either 'She knows when she's (been) wronged', or 'She knows when she's "licked"'. But as I said, it may be some popular saying of the time, whose meaning is lost. Aug 26, 2020 at 23:32
  • 1
    Great answer and nicely researched, but I think you could improve it even a little more by using the info on "hoo" from this answer. I'm setting a bounty here for extra motivation, and to get you off that beastly 666 reputation score ;-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 26, 2020 at 15:41
  • I'm so sorry I've had no time to do as you asked. If I can I'll incorporate parts of that other answer this coming week. Thank you for getting me off that score. ("Beastly": Ha!) Oct 3, 2020 at 22:44
  • @Rand al'Thor: Done. Finally! Feb 16, 2022 at 11:18

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